So let’s fast forward to the final days of my Stage Combat class. (You can read about the class here, here, here, and here.) Well, having recovered from the slings and arrows, or at least the bumps, of outrageous fortune from the earlier classes, we were ready for scene work. Doing scenes from actual plays in combat class makes a lot of sense, because the form that stage combat takes depends heavily on the context of a scene. Think about it–a slap in an Abbott and Costello scene is entirely different from a slap in a domestic tragedy.
I was assigned to play a part in a three-person scene from the play Marisol. My character was a delusional man named Lenny who, on recovering from a suicide attempt, experiences angels forcing his soul back down into his body. In his deranged mind, he is spared from death only because angels want him to warn the rest of the world of a coming war between God and the angels. Lenny’s sister, who must endure Lenny’s ranting, spends the scene demeaning Lenny, who in a fit of anger chases her with a knife. Complications, as they say, ensue.
Our teacher had given us a repertoire of moves to use to work into the scene and so we choreographed a set of knife lunges and falls, and a cool part where my sister appears to twist my thumb. But really, for me, the most fun was just working seriously on the scene as an actor with the two talented women who were in the scene with me. They were both very good and I just wanted to be able to keep up with them.
We performed the scene twice: the first time was during our class with an invited audience. That was no problem, and we were in our own space. The folks who were in the audience liked the scene and thought that the violence in it was very realistic–they said they felt scared at times.
The next day, however, was more difficult for me. Instead of performing in the comfort of our own space, we were performing as a guest scene for a different class in a separate theater space–the acting technique Scene Study class. Not only were we in a different space, worse, we were with actors who were performing their own final scenes. I have to admit, I felt very intimidated and competitive as I watched those talented actors perform. I was shaking when it was our time to do our scene.
We arranged our set and soon I heard the opening lines of the play as the two actresses began the scene. I took a deep breath backstage and then looked at the words that I had written on my palm as a reminder of my acting objective: I am there to warn the two women about the coming struggle between God and the angels.
Before I knew it, the scene was over and the class was applauding. The fight scene was a little off because we were in a new space and we didn’t have the chance to adjust the movements to the new space. However, I was really happy with our acting. The best times in stage acting are when truthful things happen in the scene that you didn’t plan on, and you end up surprising yourself. We had a moment like that in the scene last night. Unplanned, I grabbed the hand of one of the actresses in a fumbled attempt to seduce her. The other actress playing my sister gave me a dirty glare, and again unplanned, we had a silent showdown where it took several moments before either one of us would back down. When I eventually did, it felt great, because as actors we had laid the foundation for that brother-sister relationship which we were able to fulfill in that moment spontaneously.
So that’s it. Combat operations have come to a halt. I’m frankly glad. Not because of the combat–it was great to learn all the techniques and it gave me a lot of confidence. Our teacher was really excellent and patient. But, for now at least, I see that in some situations, acting is just too nerve wracking and stressful for me. I like writing more. If I screw up in writing, I can just revise it, and no one is the wiser. But with stage acting, my very self is on the line when I screw up. That said, I highly recommend that all actors take a stage combat class. Really what better way to fulfill the word “play” than to go back to those childhood days when you found sticks, and you had sword fights with your friends?
This way you can have your childish fun, but with complete safety.
And that ‘s better than a poke in the eye.